A Tale of Two Willie Hortons

Willie Wattison HortonThe convicted murderer Willie Horton comes up in my writing quite often, because of his use by Lee Atwater in George HW Bush’s presidential campaign against Michael Dukakis in 1988. Dukakis was going to lose that campaign regardless, but the Horton ad is a classic example of racist demagoguery. But the last time I looked up “Willie Horton” on Google, I noticed, “See results about: Willie Horton (Baseball player).” And I thought: that’s gotta suck for him. But that was as far as I took it. But over the weekend, our own James Fillmore wrote an article over at Twinkie Town, The Other Willie Horton.

Willie Horton was a left fielder for the Detroit Tigers for most of the 1960s and 1970s. He hit 325 home runs and 1,163 RBIs in his 18 season career. That makes him tied for 109th most career home runs and 174th for RBIs. The guy had an amazing career — the high point of which was winning the World Series in 1968. But Fillmore started his article the year before, during the 1967 Detroit riot. Horton got into the thick of the violence, shortly after a game. Still dressed in his uniform, he pleaded with the mob for calm. It was a heroic, if doomed, effort.

The article tell’s Horton’s (literal) rags to riches story. And spends a fair amount of time talking about his public service work since his initial effort in 1967. It also has some curious facts, like his keeping his batting helmet when he switched teams, and painting it with the new team colors and logo. Nothing is mentioned of it, but I assume this is due to the usual athlete’s superstition about making changes, because you never know. It’s one of the most charming things about sports figures. I understand the impulse very well.

I don’t really know what great stats are, but clearly Horton was one of the greats. He wasn’t someone who slipped into the majors for a season or two and was never seen again. He’d certainly have to be considered one of the top 2,000 people to ever play. To provide some context, there are over a thousand active MLB players at any given time. So Horton is great. He’s not Willie Mays, certainly, but he isn’t that much worse. Yet when you enter his name into Google, you don’t even see a reference to him on the first scream on most computers. Instead, you see the Bush campaign’s despicable act of demagoguery.

I understand: Google search results are not accolades. In the grand scheme of things, the Willie Horton campaign ad is more important than the life and baseball career of Willie Wattison Horton. But it seems a shame. People like to talk about incentives. But in our society, there isn’t much difference between accolades and notoriety — whether it be profiteering hedge fund managers, murderers, or demagogues. Or great baseball players and social activists.


For the record, the murderer’s name is actually William Horton. The demagogues who used part of his life changed his name to “Willie” to add to the stereotype — to make him more “black.”

20 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Willie Hortons

  1. You know sometimes I share these things just to share, not for a link, right? In this case I thought the article was too short. But thanks anyways!

    So, just curious. You’ve mentioned you don’t do bandwidth theft before; I didn’t quite get the gist of it. When you use an image like that baseball card, do you save the image to your host, is that the key? Do they charge you by amount of data stored so it’s cheaper to link to images instead of storing them yourself? I don’t understand how blogs work!

    • I wrote about because I was interesting in it. As I said, I had noticed it before and thought it was interesting.

      Up to this point, I haven’t worried too much about taking small, low quality versions of other people’s images. I figure if they have a problem, they will tell me. But I should probably be more careful about that. I did think about it in this case given that it’s fairly unique. On the other hand, the person who posted it is committing copyright infringement.

      As for bandwidth, that’s correct. Although now I don’t especially care given that my hosting is now pretty much bandwidth independent (as long as I don’t get too big). Mostly, my annoyance is over the default use of the link relation “nofollow.” It’s the most anti-internet thing in the world. It is used to stop comment spam. But it doesn’t work. It has never worked. What it does is stop Google from considering a comment I put on another website from counting toward my Page Rank. Or rather, that is the case if the website uses “nofollow.” Almost all do. Frankly Curious does not. I wouldn’t mind people taking bandwidth if I got credit for it, but I don’t.

      But I don’t really care at this point. I should change my TOS.

      • Not sure I entirely get it — I am dumb on these computer things — but I think I get the gist. Basically the way page ranks and hits and so forth are calculated is dross, if I follow. Besides, the whole notion that everything should be paid for by advertisers desiring popular sites is dross.

        Again thanks for posting, and much more, thanks for reading!

        • The core of a webpage’s ranking in the search engines is based upon other pages linking to it. The way that pretty much all blogging software works, links in comments tell search engines to not count those links. I think it is a terrible way to treat people who are, after all, added free content to your site.

          I like baseball. If you were writing about the Vikings, I probably wouldn’t read your stuff!

          • Well thanks again. I’m trying to wean off doing those posts for a while, as they ended up taking way more than a week to research and posting one once a week was making me crazy. (Horton, you’ve not only got to read about him, but the whole history of Detroit and what lay behind the 1967 unrest — which I didn’t do a good job of including in the article.)

            But now I’m finding myself really feeling empty not having a self-imposed assignment for Saturday. It’s why I’ve been obsessively posting here the last few hours. I’ve become a typing-shit junkie! So I’ve thought about maybe a series where I compare old baseball movies with newer ones. Like the 1950 “Jackie Robinson Story” and “42.” It’d give me something to do, and it wouldn’t involve heavy research.

            The SO and me got into a pretty epic fight over the weekend about what I should be writing. The SO feels I should quit my job and write important research. I’d love to, but I have zero good ideas. “Merchants Of Doubt” or “The Case For Reparations” aren’t ideas that fall off trees — those are authors who have been exploring subjects for a long time and know what areas they want to explore further. I’d like to venture into that kind of stuff, but I’m well aware I’m not in that league yet (if ever.) It’s quite daunting.

            F***ing around with baseball posts, at least I know that’s in my wheelhouse, as they say. Not very useful, though. I can’t imagine what one would write about football. Maybe Jim Brown’s acting/activist career. Or a guy I really hate, Minnesota Supreme Court justice Alan Page. Not that he’s a bad person, far from it! He’s a good liberal judge. But he was a superstar for the Vikings, he studied law while playing football, and he’s also a gifted musician. I LOATHE people with that much talent, and curse God every day for not having it myself.

            • I like the idea of doing stuff on old baseball movies. If you made it about sports in general, you could easily have a website devoted to that alone.

              If you write a lot about a subject you are interested in, it will likely develop into a unique perspective. But writing pays poorly regardless. I mean, Oreskes doesn’t make a living writing. And Coates may have at one time, but he’s had a day job for a while. Writing can certainly open up opportunities. I suspect you have at least one very publishable article in you about the home care industry. That’s where I would start.

              • Good idea. That’s tough. I hope dearly that most people in home care realize I’ve been an atrocious monster on bad days and a decent sort most of the time. However I have been a monster and I can’t write honestly about everything wrong with that business and how it turns people into monsters. It’s not impossible, it’s just really, really a deep topic and truly difficult to examine objectively. That’s not easy, like dumb sports stuff.

                • If I were an editor at The New Yorker I would say you should write a story that goes back and forth between your personal experience and the industry broadly. But I think an article about your experience doing the job would probably be really interesting. It’s something worth noodling around with anyway.

                  • Good suggestion, noodle around. It won’t kill me and I know some of the sources I’d need to look at more. Versus, well, pretty much any other subject, where I wouldn’t have the faintest clue where to start.

                    Thing is I like stumbling backasswards into nifty 75-page Park Service PDFs on the Astrodome. Because if I do a bad job on my 7th-grader book report version of that material, who cares. I get really scared and insecure trying to write about real things. That Horton piece and talking about Detroit history gave me hives. I probably put 30 hours into background reading. For two pages of Internet essay. Can’t imagine how you put out 5000 words a day on serious stuff. Practice, I guess!

                    • It isn’t 5000 words — probably half that. But I can answer that question: will power. And sometimes it really shows. The article I just wrote (for Saturday morning), would be really good if I spent another hour on it. But I don’t have another hour.

                      Anyway, just play around with it. I find it useful to outline and keep notes. If I just research, I get lost in it. I might improve my overall knowledge, but I don’t further the project. And don’t worry! Being wrong is fine. Just don’t plagiarize. That’s a career killer!

  2. @Frank — again, thread too long, my browser (Firefox) didn’t see a reply link.

    No worries about plagarism. I’m a very bad person in many, many ways, but I would never pass somebody else’s efforts off as mine. This site has talked a lot about copyrights/patents, and those need to be reformed. But if Stephen King thinks his way through going back in time and preventing the Kennedy murder, he deserves full credit for it. I’m not sure he deserves vastly more income than you, in fact I think you should get roughly the same (pretty nuts output of effort by both!)

    It’s why I put links in my posts when they fit, just to announce “stole this from here.” Fuck a career, I don’t have one and never will, but you don’t steal from other writers. You just don’t. There must be some level of honor among thieves.

    Incidentally in one of my posts lately I referenced a baseball player surnamed Simon, I referenced the gizmo memory game, and I used the link to Amazon header here for the Simon game. I’m trying not to steal!

    • I think most plagiarism comes from carelessness, actually.

      Thanks for the link, that’s very nice of you! But I don’t think that will work. You should probably ask those bloodsucking bastards who make money off your sweat if they have an Amazon associates link. But who knows? It might work. But I’m not sure what my contract with them says. But I really do appreciate the effort.

      • Well yeah, there’s that.

        This is how insidious these things are. The people who mod sites like that are absolute sweethearts. And work like fiends. I’ve never asked if they get paid, but I’m sure if they do, it’s not more than hobby money. While Vox — in many ways a good organization! — gets their labor for pennies and a buttload of other labor for free. Those mods could quit tomorrow and a ton of people would jump at the chance to take their place working like mad for hobby money.

        Is this new? One of our local papers — now a ruined husk where shameless hacks churn out “Gummint Gonna Getcha” garbage, after the parent corporation dumped asstons of debt from its other holdings on the paper — used to have a “Community Corner”-type page. People could submit little 250-word Garrison Keillor-style observations and would feel very proud if their bit was selected for the page. That was a popular feature, it made readers think the paper cared about reader contributions, and it amounted to free labor. Editorial pages work mostly the same way.

        So I don’t think that’s a new trick. What is new, I believe, is how websites of that sort sorta say-without-saying that contributors with the most readers and “recs” will get hired by big media outlets. And that has in fact happened for a few people who proved they could consistently deliver quality promo bits for the sports leagues in question. Write about how, say, what’s happening right now in some league is Damn Fascinating, do it well, do it often, and maybe you’ll get picked up by ESPN or CBSSportsline.

        Gotta admit, I was a sucker. The thought of consistently writing about jocks makes me wanna barf, but I bought into the whole “start here, get noticed elsewhere” scam. Now I’ll probably contribute more just because writing is very addictive and lookee here, I can be on the “Community Corner” page! It’s pathetic and makes me ashamed of myself, but I guess it’s better than mainlining corn whiskey.

        • Vox? What is that? You can’t be talking bout vox.com, which doesn’t even have comments. Or am I misunderstanding the way vox.com works?

          The internet is built to a very large extent on free labor. That’s certainly what FC has always been. And then comments — which are critical to most sites — are all free labor. (It one of the reasons I find the rel=”nofollow” so repugnant.) But in the past, it was free labor going to the community. Increasingly, it is free labor going to the capitalists. It’s a shame. I’ve been on the internet since 1987, and many things are better, but that is far worse.

          You really should start a blog. You could still work for the Twins site. You could use it like Krugman uses his, to work out stuff for (in his case) his columns.

              • One thing I will praise the Vox sports sites for: they get free labor from writers and commenters, but at least they mod the hell out of trolls. Most sports comment threads are like Taibbi’s at RS, the dark Id of the angry American male. SB still gets idiots having stupid arguments about meaningless stat stuff, but sexist/racist/homophobic comments are not tolerated. It’s much more fun to have girls around and gay people who make fun of players adjusting their “equipment” every two seconds.

                • I didn’t know that about Taibbi’s comments, but it’s not surprising. I can see where he might bring out the worst in some people.

                  • Actually the comments relating to the actual content of his articles aren’t too bad. But everything he posts gets tons of trolling from posters getting their Liberal Media Bias hate on, because RS messed up a story on rape in college (which is definitely a problem, that story just wasn’t triple-checked well enough.)

                    Does it serve a website to allow rampant trolls just because they keep coming back and you get more views that way? “The Nation” has finally decided no, but that’s not trying to make a huge profit.

                    • I think it is self-defeating. Trolls make the experience worse and push real users away. And I don’t see any of the trolls actually clicking on the ads.

                      But what I was getting at was that Taibbi is very much a guy. And so I would think he would naturally attract a lot of right wing thugs who think they can take him down. What you say reminds me of a troll I once got here who was accusing me of liberal media bias. It was a long time ago when I still had very little traffic. But regardless of when, who would mistake FC for a media organization? The guy must have been crazy.

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